Housing and technology put social prescribing at heart of a wellbeing revolution

Jenny Chapman reveals how technology is transforming health and wellbeing in an industrial Northern port town

SOCIAL prescribing is undergoing a digital revolution.

The emergence of affordable smart technologies and internet of things (IoT) connectivity has transformed society. And it is also helping to solve one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS – demand.

Jenny Chapman
Jenny Chapman, group director of innovation and excellence, ForViva

At ForHousing, we’re proud to be working collaboratively and with care to be part of this solution.

More than a million people in the UK visit their GP with nonmedical conditions every day. This places huge financial strain on the health and social care service. It is estimated that appointments for issues such as social isolation and loneliness costs the economy £2.5 billion each year.

In response, GPs are increasingly turning to social prescribing. By being able to refer people for non-clinical interventions to community services and support, it promotes positive lifestyle changes that improve lives and reduces the need for medical treatments.

Physical activity programmes, employment support and debt advice are among the many options available.

Championed by the NHS, social prescribing has already cut GP consultation rates by 28% and A&E attendance by 24%. Numerous studies suggest social prescribing can lead to better outcomes for people.

It looks set to grow rapidly in the coming years. The NHS predicts at least 900,000 people will be supported by it over the next four years.

Digital technology is playing a crucial role in improving how social prescribing is delivered.

Passport to Wellbeing

Last year, ForHousing was one of the first landlords in the UK to run a social prescribing pilot.

Everything we do is for the good of tenants and to improve people’s lives. Our social prescribing project is testament to our passion for providing tenant-focused, digitally enabled services and to our commitment to working together, collaboratively, with care to have a lasting impact on communities.

We launched the Passport to Wellbeing in Ellesmere Port with Cheshire West & Chester Council in April 2018. The pilot links services up with GPs, statutory, and third sector providers.

It became clear that in order to efficiently manage such a complex network, the scheme needed a digital platform. That’s why we partnered with “tech for good” company, Elemental Software, which is an expert in social prescribing.

They provide a cloud-based platform linking up all partners involved and giving instant access to referrals, next steps and updates on progress.

The app allows GPs to easily refer patients to the services and support offered by both ForHousing and our partners. Patient data can be viewed on any smart device at any time, and prescription options can be filtered by location, cost, ability and type of support required.

Most importantly, the health and wellbeing of the individual can be tracked by the app too.

Without Elemental, this project would have been impossible. These interventions are making a positive impact on people’s wellbeing, improving their quality of life and creating new opportunities to help them fuel their potential.

In the first year, 74 people, through non-medical methods, were prescribed activities such as gardening, relaxation, money advice and counselling.

88% of people recorded a positive uplift in their wellbeing scores across the themes of a ‘safe and comfortable home’, ’a healthy mind and body’, financial wellbeing’ and ‘employment opportunities’.

One participant visited her GP due to issues with mobility and personal care. It transpired, she was experiencing loneliness and had no family close by.

The framework of social prescribing enabled a referral to ForHousing’s wellbeing service, and she received support such as being introduced to social activities at her local church.

The referral also meant ForHousing could register her for a home that met her mobility needs and refer her to social services for a care assessment and occupational therapist. She said the Passport to Wellbeing was invaluable and now feels more integrated within her community.

GP partner, Dr Rajesh Rajan said the project was having a big impact at his surgery as it meant he could offer people a different and non-medical way to improve their health.

When the project began, social prescribing was relatively unknown outside of health circles. Now, with the help of digital innovation, it is increasingly gaining political momentum.

Housing providers play an essential role in communities. We are more than just landlords. We might be the only service someone speaks to. We form a relationship with individuals through regular contact. We build trust and identify potential issues.

Nationally, social prescribing continues to be seen largely as the domain of the health sector, but we all have a part to play and we must work collaboratively.

In developing Passport to Wellbeing, partnership work was vital because GPs are often the first port of call when someone needs support, while as a landlord we might be the only service that people regularly contact.

By working together, we can address wider aspects of health and ensure people are being referred for a variety of issues that may be affecting their wellbeing. To celebrate the scheme’s first anniversary, we are reviewing the impact of the pilot and looking at ways to roll it out across other neighbourhoods.

The use of Elemental software provides us with valuable information about what activities are popular, effective and why people are being referred – helping us to evidence our plans for future programming and activities with commissioners and funders.

We recognise this mix of technology and collaboration as a long-term solution, one which housing is at the heart. If the health sector is to achieve the vision set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, which outlines significant preventative measures, social prescribing is vital.

It enables people to take ownership of their own wellbeing and the right digital solution has been key to this.

By working in partnership, through initiatives like Passport to Wellbeing, we can create more possibilities for people, fuel their potential and empower everyone in their community to live full and healthy lives.

NH

Jenny Chapman is group director of innovation and excellence at ForViva

This article first appeared in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine, #5 July 2019

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